Arsenal will feel a little under pressure heading into Sunday’s clash with Bournemouth as they seek a return to winning ways following a frustrating period away from Premier League action.
A trip to the south coast is certainly not the ideal fixture to ease the team back into action after a near two-week break but, then again, the Gunners spurned much more appetising opportunities against Crystal Palace and Wolves in the weeks leading into the break.
A run of four draws in five games has been something of a fly in the ointment after a series of excellent victories for Unai Emery’s side and an age away from the domestic game has allowed the niggles to fester for fans.
Gooners everywhere have been forced to ruminate on the return of a few defensive shortcomings shown in the run up to the break, features of our game that many had hoped were well on the way to oblivion. It was a reminder that this turnaround is going to be a marathon and not a sprint.
A few cosy home fixtures, blended with a dead rubber in the Europa League, would have been the perfect tonic as we seek to iron out the creases but, as it is, we face the TV cameras (yet again) and all the added incentive that brings for opposition sides.
Add to that a Bournemouth team that is likely to be this season’s Burnley and you have a recipe for a sweaty Sunday indeed.
Eddie Howe is an astute operator and his sides have caused Arsenal plenty of problems over the years. I expect them to do more of the same on this occasion and that is likely to make this a truly testing encounter.
Injury worries, particularly down the left, mean that is almost certain to be a focal point for the Cherries’ attack, just as it was for Wolverhampton, but, unlike the midlanders, I would not expect Bournemouth to set up for the counter – not on home turf at any rate.
On a positive note, Emery will have done countless hours of homework and he will know where our weaknesses lie. I would be staggered if he allowed Sead Kolasinac to go unprotected again and I don’t think he will allow the hosts to have the sort of time on the ball in the middle of the park with which to cause us problems.
That’s not to say there won’t be difficult moments on Sunday, because there almost certainly will, but the difference this year is that there will be a plan in place to try to mitigate them.
Quite how the Spaniard mitigates against our poor first-half performances is another matter entirely, however. A quirk of our opening handful of games has started to become a regular feature and, if we are to avoid going in at the break behind or having been pegged back, we will have to fire from the first whistle.
I’m pretty confident that, if we can get the ball forward to our front three or four, we will be well placed to do some damage but the key is going to be getting hold of the ball in midfield and moving it quickly and decisively.
I am less confident in our ability to stay compact when Bournemouth are in possession, particularly in wide areas, and I also worry about our tendency towards over-exposure in attack, allowing for opponents to get in on our goal in two or three passes.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the team shapes up after a period away. Getting a positive result at Bournemouth would be a real shot in the arm for a team that had started to hit the buffers and it may just serve to fire us into the busy Christmas period with the sort of gusto needed to cement our claim for the top four.
A defeat, while not quite disastrous, would mean questions would have to start to be asked about some fresh faces in the January transfer window. Nothing wholesale, of course, but the sort of additions that might make the difference between seventh place and a top four push, with some players moving out of the club also.